South Africa: Leaderless DA Aims to Have Conference in April 2020

John Steenhuisen (file photo)

The DA is aiming to have its next federal congress in April next year in the wake of resignations which has left the party leaderless.

Currently, the party is without a federal leader, federal chairperson, chief whip and CEO.

In a statement following Thursday's meeting of the party's federal executive (FedEx) via teleconference, chairperson of the federal council Helen Zille said: "The DA is in the business of ensuring that the democratic project is not derailed by either internal or external issues.

"We can waste no time in working for an inclusive, prosperous democracy. To this end, strong and stable leadership in the DA is essential."

After Mmusi Maimane resigned as party leader on Wednesday and federal chairperson Athol Trollip followed suit, the party was effectively without a leader because its constitution empowers the federal chairperson to take over the responsibilities of the federal leader.

But the constitution is silent on what happens when neither is available.

"This is a rather unusual situation," Zille remarked at Wednesday's press conference where Maimane and Trollip announced their resignations.

The party later elicited a legal opinion from its federal legal commission (FLC).

"The FedEx was convened on Thursday morning to study a legal opinion by the DA federal legal commission on the steps required to fill the leadership vacancies in a way that does not undermine the federal constitution and does not negatively affect the political operations of the DA," read Zille's statement.

"The FLC is empowered to, inter alia, interpret the federal constitution."

"In terms of the federal constitution, the federal leader is deputised by the federal chairperson, but the federal constitution is silent on the current situation where both positions have become vacant simultaneously."

She said on the FLC's advice, they would follow the following steps:

- The federal council (FedCo) will be convened as soon as practically possible to elect an interim federal leader and interim federal chairperson.

- A federal congress will be convened as soon as practically possible, with a provisional target of April 2020.

"The DA's political and operational structures have already began the work of giving effect to these steps, and want to reassure DA members, voters and South Africans at large that the DA will continue its work of effective and constructive opposition, and where we are in government, in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Limpopo, we will continue to improve the quality of governance."

Zille said the FedEx has also noted the developments of the party's parliamentary caucus.

On Thursday morning Maimane also resigned as an MP, apparently after learning that he was no longer parliamentary leader, because he was not elected by caucus and only the federal leader can automatically claim the top spot.

This meant that John Steenhuisen was no longer chief whip because the chief whip's term was tied to that of the parliamentary leader who appointed him.

She said the caucus leadership would communicate its implications.

Parliamentary caucus leader and now acting parliamentary leader Annelie Lotriet told News24 that the caucus would have an election next week to elect its new parliamentary leader. This person will have the prerogative to appoint the chief whip.

Later, in a statement, Lotriet said current deputy chief whip, Jacques Julius, would take over as interim chief whip.

Julius' position differs from that of Steenhuisen because the caucus elected him deputy chief whip but Steenhuisen was appointed by Maimane.

"These positions will remain until such time an interim federal leader is elected at the next federal council. In the event that the newly elected interim federal leader is a Member of Parliament, said person will automatically be the leader of the parliamentary caucus in terms of Section 9.3 of the party's constitution," Lotriet said in a statement.

"Should the interim parliamentary leader not be a Member of Parliament, caucus will elect a parliamentary leader, who will in turn appoint a chief whip."

News24 understands that nominations for parliamentary leader close at 20:00 on Friday.

Zille thanked "Mr Maimane and Mr Trollip for their service to the party and the country".

"We would like to thank our members and supporters for standing by us during this difficult period," she said.

"We remain committed to our values of freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity."

In her statement, Lotriet, on behalf of the caucus, wished "Mr Maimane well in his next chapter and thank him for his leadership and commitment to the democratic project".

Source: News24

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